The Eiffel Tower at midnight, 21 (22) November 2009
Today it ends – National Novel Writing Month. I have spent the past 30 days accruing words on this not-so-novel-but-writing-project-nonetheless. As of last Friday, I now have 54,952 words posted on this blog, give or take. By adding WordPress word counts manually, that’s what it says I have. I have yet to upload to the NaNoWriMo site to verify my word count, but I will do that when I finish this post.
What is foremost in my mind today however is, “How do I wrap this month up on this blog? What is the “ending” to the stories I have been telling this past month?
I keep thinking that if I really had my crap together, I would make this a kind of summary blog: I would catalog all of the posts I have written this past month, but uugggghhh. That sounds like something not fun to read about, nor write about. I still might do it, soon — there is a lot of meat in these blogs, I think, and I would like to organize things a little better. But not a project for today.
What I feel like doing is going through Flickr and finding some of the photos from the past month that did not yet make it into posts. To make a kind of blog post-pourri, if you will! A crazy quilt of leftover scraps of short tales not yet told. THAT sounds like fun to me today, so I am going with it.
Might as well start with that first photo up there…
The Night Lights of Paris
On Saturday, November 21, I went solo to my first all-French people party. Ohhh, I take that back a little bit. In August of 2008, PJ’s Expresso had a surprise birthday party given by her boyfriend. There were only Frenchies at that party. But I was with PJ, and a few people chatted with me in English. Then there was the gathering arranged for us by one of PJ’s former clients who invited us to Bordeaux for the weekend. All Frenchies. Yes, some spoke English, too. But it was with PJ. Other than those two times I have been to some gatherings with PJ’s fellow expat co-workers, and out with friends, mostly expat, whom I have met here in the city, but this was my first such event *solo.*
PJ was to have gone with me. We had asked Expresso to be sans enfants for Saturday as we had been invited to the party back in September and meant to keep the engagement. However, on Saturday afternoon, about a half hour before we needed to leave to get to the party, which was being held in a suburb north of Paris, Expresso called in a fit saying the children are coming, she is at her wit’s end, and they are on their way. This happened while I was out buying a birthday gift for the lovely lady whose birthday we were going to celebrate.
I returned to find PJ telling me the above information. A few short months ago, information such as this would have killed the evening and I would have stayed home and watched TV with PJ and his kids. But I had been kind of counting on going that evening. I was curious to see my friend’s home (she is a woman who had casually dated PJ before I visited him in 2008, but whom I also got to know once she learned that my visit with PJ had gone well, and would be moving in with him in the summertime. She bowed out very gracefully, in other words, and I respect and admire her for the grace which I was shown. It speaks a lot to her kind character. I like her a lot, too). I wanted the evening out — I spend way too much time sequestered away in our apartment by orders of the court that is my anxious-prone and has-trouble-doing-things-alone personality. I had also *just* spent about 20 € on goodies from the health food store, like specialty artisan chocolate, tea, and little tea cakes.
There was no other option, however, but to go on my own.
I was a little freaked out. In fact, I think what freaked me out the most was my certain attitude of, “I’M GOING” when in fact it was no ordinary “going out in Paris” journey.
PJ’s and my friend lives in the northern suburb called Sevran, accessible by the RER B line at stop Sevran-Beaudottes. First of all, this requires going to station Gare du Nord, which I wrote in a previous entry (the section called Métro for Dummies) is not really a great place for catching the Métro, unless you have to. In catching the RER B, I had to go to Gare du Nord. It was still afternoon, so I should have had no problems, but I also knew I would be returning to the station later in the evening, when things are a lot more dicey. The RER train stops running at 11 pm, so I would be transferring some time before that, but I knew it would be later than I wanted to be going alone.
Still, I wanted to go.
Then there is the fact that Sevran is neighboring suburban commune Clichy-sous-Bois, which is famous for the 2005 riots in Paris-IDF. I in no way want to sound like a prejudiced bigot, but there are just some places on the planet where white foreign women walking alone is just not a very good idea, you know? This would be one of those areas, at it is just a matter of common sense to be careful in some suburbs of Paris. However, to give the suburb credit, it was obviously safe enough that PJ thought it would be fine for me to go alone, in daylight. He did stress to find someone to walk me back to the train station after dark, and to not go alone.
Still, I wanted to go.
This is the part that freaked me out so — the internal strength with which I knew I would be just fine, able to do this on my own.
Armed with the directions given by my friend and with a hastily-sketched map taken from Google Maps (the printer has been out of ink since forever ago), I went to Line 5 Jaurés and got my ticket to Sevran-Beaudottes. This trip even required a more expensive Zone 4 ticket, at about 3 € 10 or so (I forgot the exact amount, but I remember two tickets was just over 7 €). I had to ask the man for the special ticket.
Je voudrais acheter deux billets pour Sevran-Beaudottes, s’il vous plait.
I must have said something right, for I got the tickets and then got on the Métro to Gare du Nord to make the change to the RER. I got to Gare du Nord, headed down to where the RER B platform is, checked the TV monitor to make sure that the train which was arriving next was headed to a my stop (there are also direct trains to Aeroport Charles de Gaulle Terminals 1 and 2, so you have to be careful if you want a train that makes the stops!).
A little word to the wise, too, about RER riding past Zone 1: when you are switching from the Métro to the train like I did, you have to keep your ticket to run it through the turnstile, both to access the RER portion of the station, and then also upon exiting your destination station. Keep that ticket handy if you go on a train journey outside of Zone 1 of Paris. You will need it.
I got to the friend’s apartment without incident. I did call her one time after exiting the station to make sure I was going the right way, and she said I was. With that assurance, and her directions and my map, I made it there.
Here is the courtyard of her apartment.
It was a very pretty oasis of trees and fall color in an otherwise very urban-looking setting. The area really reminded me a lot of neighborhoods around the Washington DC area. I have a feeling there may be a crime rate to match.
The interesting thing about Paris’ suburbs is that they are where most of the crime happens. They have an “inner city” look and feel to them. They are NOT Hausmann’s Paris in the least. Since Paris “proper” is one of the (if not the) top tourist destination cities in the world, security is high in the center of the city, and it is a reasonably safe place compared to other major cities in the world, even later at night. But the suburbs that ring Paris are another story. They are crowded, with huge high-rise buildings housing thousands. Some of them have that aura of being housing projects like I have seen in urban Washington DC and Dallas. I am sure that there are lovely parts of the suburbs, too, and some that are well off (like the area near La Défense, which I have heard has a tax surplus every year and gives it back to the residents). But these northern ones, having ridden on the train past them, or visited, like in the case of Sevran, are urban dwelling at its apex, with every race, creed, color and language, and a diversity of values and socioeconomic status, which can lead to tensions.
So. The party. It was a good time, a social time! I met one Frenchwoman who spoke English (as does PJ’s and my friend, who lived in the UK for a few years as well as in New Caledonia) who has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. It was very good to hear her story. Another two women spoke English. All were co-workers of my friend who is in purchasing for Air France. Or, one was a former co-worker as one of the woman, in her mid-20s, is looking for a new job after stopping at Air France. In fact, as I write this post, she and I are making plans via Facebook to meet up this week to practice languages! She needs to improve her English to get a better job, and I need to improve my French (duh). We discovered we are both mutually chickensh*t to speak our non-mother tongue, something we bonded over! We have decided we will help one another be more brave and practice one another’s languages. I will let you know how it goes.
We ate food, or maybe I should write that people ate food and I picked at things that I thought I could tolerate best without getting too messed up, allergy-wise. There were gorgeous-looking crèpes and Nutella, for the sugar, flour and dairy-eating folk; I had a few potato chips that were gluten-free as the one woman with Celiac let me know. There were clementines and a salad made of endive, pear, and a vinaigrette of olive oil, wine vinegar, Dijon and shallot (see David Lebovitz’s post here about vinaigrette to know how to prepare your own). The salad was *perfect* but for the Roquefort cheese crumbled in it. I knew I shouldn’t eat it and yes, it did make me feel sick a day or two later, but it tasted oh so very good.
In fact, I got so inspired by endives from that salad, I finally picked some up at the store the other day (actually, it was on Thanksgiving — I went grocery shopping that day, heh!), and I roasted some for the Thanksgiving meal we shared on Saturday with PJ and his kids. More on that in a moment, but here is the endive:
I rinsed and pulled off any outer icky-looking leaves, trimmed the bases, cut them in half, lengthwise, placed them in a parchment-lined pan (less clean up) cut side down, and drizzled olive oil on them and salted them a little with a sea salt. I roasted them for probably about 20 minutes per side, maybe 25 at 400°F/200°C (I was cooking butternut squash at the same time – photos of that coming, too), and served them with a Dijon and mayonnaise mixture (a “dijonniase” I have seen it written in English sometimes. And by the way, *real* Dijon mustard really does taste a bajillion times better than stuff like Grey Poupon, which is not full-bodied enough, in my opinion. I like to use Maille mustard, original). They were a little bitter, roasted like this, but I kind of liked the bitterness. It was not much stronger than the roasted Brussels sprouts I have made, and which I made again.
Ohhhh, what the heck! It’s a crazy quilt blog after all!! Here are all the things I have roasted of late!
Butternut Squash (in French, courge de noix de beurre)
I sliced open, seeded, and peeled a butternut squash, then cut it into about one-inch (2 cm) chunks. I coated with olive oil and salt, and stuck them in the over for probably about an hour, or just under. The chucks should be nice and browned and crispy on the outside. Sorry the photos are out of sequence in the order of preparation. My photo collage-maker in Picasa does not quickly allow much control about which pictures go where. I think you will get the idea, though.
Brussels Sprouts (in French, choux de Bruxelles)
Fresh Brussels sprouts were on sale at Leader Price, the Poor People’s Store, for a euro a half-kilo packet. I grabbed a couple and roasted them. I have been using frozen ones and thawing them before roasting, but as late fall and winter approaches, it is my chance to try to roast them fresh!
Again, same idea as all the other roasted veggies about which I have written: cut ’em up (cut off any yucky stems or leaves), douse them in olive oil and a little salt, throw them in a really hot oven, and bake the heck out of ’em until there is dark brown stuff all over them. This is *especially* important with these babies, which I think taste like crap unless you cook the heck out of them; Soo get ’em nice and dark, and they will treat you well! Buttery, yummy insides, and a crisp salty outside. I just realized I forgot to take an “after” photo! I was too busy eating them, they are so good. They should be VERY dark brown on the outside, though. These are my substitute for French fries these days.
I have also roasted some sweet potato but took no photos of it. Same deal, though. Cut them up into 1-inch pieces, oil, salt, and bake at a high temp. I think it took closer to 30-45 minutes, though. The sprouts are usually about 45 min, and cabbage, too. Endive is probably closer to 35-40, although I left them in as long as it took the squash, which was closer to 50 min, if I remember correctly. Look — exact chef I am not. Food blogger I do not aspire to be. Stick the stuff in the oven and do what I do: keep an eye on it until it is done. It’s going to take about an hour, give or take, and you have to scootch the stuff around in the pan every so often to get it evenly browned (although at this point, I am getting so lazy about it, I just do things like stick veggies in the oven and then work on this blog for about 45 minutes or until I smell hot cooked stuff from the oven. I then look in and say, “Hey! This is black on one side! It must be done!” and taste test. If it tastes okay, I eat the whole pan and grow a giant food baby). So you know, play with it. I’m just letting you know I think I have eaten more veggies in the mast few months doing them this way than I have in years, so it’s something good.
And if you want to get really fancy about it, see my friend, Wendy’s blog about roasting veggies here at Wisdom of the Moon. She is a little more exact in her instructions and she has some ideas for seasoning that sound really wonderful, too.
The Night Lights of Paris, con’t.
So, I got a little sidetracked there. Back to the party.
There was a lot of French conversation, a lot of smoking on the patio, which I did not do, and a lot of my sitting and observing, just soaking in the atmosphere, which I was really content to do.
There was a couple, I am guessing in their 30s, who brought their teeny tiny new baby of two months whose name was Thibaud (tee-boh, not to be confused with Tae Bo, which is this). The baby’s father, a preschool teacher obviously had a sense of humor that really made me wish I was fluent in French. I got the gist of a lot of the vehicles for his humor, which were basically his wife’s childbirth story and stories about the new baby. At one point, only sort of following what he was saying (“Did I really hear the word ‘boob’ in there?”) one of the English-speaking women was explaining that he was telling a story about silicone nipple shields and having to buy them for his wife and seeing that there were several sizes. His punch line was something like this: “I know when I go to buy condoms, I get an extra-large, but nipple shields? I have no idea what size my wife is!” Anyway, I guess he made it back with the nipple shields and all was well, but I have a feeling I missed some good stuff. Some juicy stuff. Alas, maybe one day I will learn and get to hear the funny stories.
We played a parlor game, too, one called “Time is Up” or something like that (I forgot). It goes like this: in an even numbered group of people, at least 8 people on up, each person writes the names of two famous people, living or dead, or two fictional characters from media like cartoons, movies and books, on small pieces of paper/index card. The papers are gathered into a group. There is a referee, who keeps track of time and makes sure people are following the rules.
All players gather in a circle and the teams of two people try to sit across from one another in the room. Upon their turn as a team, one of the team members has to see how many of the names on the papers they can communicate to his or her partner in the following manner:
Round 1: Using any verbal description (except for the letters of the alphabet in the name, or saying any part of the name), or by using mime (like in “Charades”), teams have one minute to try to have successful guesses of as many names on the papers as possible. If a team member makes a successful guess, the team member holding the paper sets it down as a “point” for the team. If a team member has no idea how to communicate the name of the person/character in the paper or the partner does not guess easily, they can pass on the name and move to the next, placing the paper at the bottom of the pile.
When each team has had a turn, or when the list has expired, whichever comes first, the scores for that round are tallied for each team. The papers are gathered and re-used for Round 2.
Round 2: For this round, teams can only use ONE word to describe the people on the papers. If people have been paying attention to the game, this is easier as most or all of the names have come up.
The same tally process is used, and then the game moves to Round 3.
Round 3: This round, only mime may be used. By this time, everyone should be somewhat familiar with the names on the papers, so this is a little easier than it sounds.
At the end, the scores are tallied for each round and the winning team is the one with the highest score.
Yikes. That was a lot harder to write than I thought it would be. If any part of it is unclear, or if this is a game that is familiar to you already, let me know! I’d be curious as to its variations and so on.
The hour was getting late at the party. I knew if I were getting on the train I would have to do it soon. My friend came to the rescue, however, and came up to me, saying, “I am going to see if Hervé and Françis can take you home. They have come by car and can drop you off near your apartment.” Not long after, Hervé (who, by the way, was my English-speaking partner during the game. Sneaky French! Quite a few really do speak English — more than they let on. But they are shy about doing so. I get it. I feel mortified when I try to speak French half the time, so I understand), said, “Are you ready to go?”
Hervé, Françis, a woman named Martine, and I piled into Hervé’s really nice minivan. We drove south on one of the main freeways back into Paris. In the night sky, we watched the 11 pm showing of the Eiffel Tower’s special light show for its 120th anniversary. Hervé asked Martine and I if we would like to have a tour of Paris By Night, to see the lights of all Paris up and down the Seine by night.
We drove up and down streets from the Place de Concorde to the Champs-Elysées, around the Galeries Lafayette, which have special Christmas lights and window displays each holiday. Our final stop was the Eiffel Tower, and I got the photo you see at the beginning of the post. A jewel by night.
After that, Hervé took me home and dropped me off at my doorstep. It was a beautiful, generous gesture of him to spend the time and the gasoline to do this, but when I commented how thankful I was, he said it was his pleasure, that he longed for an excuse to show Paris by night at the onset of the holiday season. He loves seeing it himself.
All in all, it was another highlight of my Paris experience so far, and a night I won’t forget.
A sparkly tower — the regular light show at every hour.
I’ve no more time to proof this piece, so if there are errors, there are errors! I also have been lax on commenting back to some of you (Ken) so I will try to do that tomorrow. But right now, I need to post this baby and get my final word count done for NaNoWriMo and then skedoodle out to the Champs-Elysées to the theater there.
I will likely not post tomorrow, and maybe not even the next day! I have been neglecting other web social circles for this project here this month, and I am feeling the urge to connect with some of my online friends again. I will post again, of course, just not sure when or how much. I do have to say this project has been wonderful, though, I am glad I did it, and it really seemed to help me hit a stride on this site, something I do not want to lose.
Okay, that’s it — must run. Be well and see you back here soon!